6.5 - Developing our “Both/And” Skill Set – Accountability in Relationship

6.5 — Developing our “Both/And” Skill Set – Accountability in Relationship (50 minutes)

Materials needed: Allison and Accountability scene study handout

Purpose of piece: To consider how a single individual can use “both/and” thinking in an attempt to remain accountably engaged with multiple groups with varying points of view. To explore the degree to which various uses of voice are accountable within the context of relationship.

Facilitator’s Note: You may find it useful to anchor this exercise with the following quote from the book. You may consider reading this quote as a quick, centering activity before introducing the scene study.

“I asked Orland Bishop how he knows when he is responding to his higher Self and not his ego. He said he knows it because of the way he reflects on his motivations. If his words and actions are about caring for others, a kind of future arises out of those interactions that is in service of more than him alone. Instead of seeing himself as simply creating his own world, he sees the process as all of us co-creating our collective world together. Therefore, he does not make decisions only with himself in mind. His decision-making is, in fact, primarily informed by the needs of those around him. The effect his actions have on others provides the validation of his approach.” (pg. 195)

Facilitator’s Note: As this is one of the most complex issues treated in this series, it may be useful for the facilitation team to read the following document in preparation for implementation:

Tochluk, Shelly & Cameron Levin. “Powerful Partnerships: Transformative Alliance Building.” In Accountability and White Anti-racist Organizing: Stories from Our Work. Roselle, NJ: Crandall, Dostie, and Douglass Books, 2010.

An updated version of the chapter is available on AWARE-LA’s website under the White Anti-racist Culture Building Toolkit tab: https://www.awarela.org/toolkit/

You might also consider offering the chapter reading as a follow up to the group discussion.

Say to group: What you’re being handed is a scene study. The primary character is Allison. She is a white woman who has spent years becoming active in racial justice efforts. She has connections to people in several different organizations, some that have seemingly competing orientations. She finds herself holding back her true feelings in some contexts, while in others she expresses herself more freely. In each situation, she attempts to build a relationship that is marked by integrity and accountability. Let’s read about Allison… (Intro and silent reading/reflection – 10 minutes)

Scene 1.

Allison attends the sixth in a series of quarterly fund-raising events she has co-produced with a group of white colleagues. The proceeds of each event have supported the efforts of a local organization of people of color, led by Janet. After the event, Janet asks Allison to continue planning quarterly fund-raisers for the upcoming year to support their group. Janet tells Allison that their group is now budgeting for their upcoming year with this expectation in mind. Allison feels conflicted because she and her white colleagues have been asked to support another organization, also led by people of color, who is working on different political issues. Allison says she’ll talk with her group to see if they can meet Janet’s fund-raising expectations. She really wants to tell Janet that as they create their budget, they probably shouldn’t count on the same level of fund-raising they’ve had during the last year and a half. But, she’s too nervous to say this because she anticipates being questioned about the economic power the white people hold in the situation.

Scene 2.

Allison meets for lunch with a close friend of color, Kimberly, who is critical of the strategies used by the organization Janet leads. Allison tells Kimberly about her concerns: her fear of failing to meet Janet’s expectations and the constraints she feels about how to prioritize the fund-raising efforts; that Allison, too, isn’t sure she agrees will all of the plans for this upcoming year’s actions, but that she recognizes that these aren’t her choices to make and that she’s supposed to be operating in solidarity, and as a white person, critiquing the approach isn’t acceptable. Allison also tells Kimberly that she thinks it should be okay to spread out her efforts so that other groups working toward racial justice can also benefit. Kimberly responds that since Allison and her group’s fund-raising efforts occur quarterly, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be able to either allocate 50% of proceeds to each group after each event, or create two events that benefit Janet’s group and another two that benefit the second group.

Scene 3.

Allison meets with Jennifer, one of her white colleagues. Jennifer is in complete alignment with the organization Janet leads. Jennifer has been really vocal about how white privilege and supremacy are at the heart of any critical questioning the white group is having regarding how to move forward with their fund-raising efforts. Jennifer feels strongly that white people need to take direction from people of color, and they’ve already heard from Janet about what’s expected, and so this is what they must do. Allison tells Jennifer she’s concerned about the long-term prospects for continued success, and that some people are falling away because they see the group’s efforts as too narrowly-focused and they’re unable to expand their reach and entice other white people with different concerns to contribute.

Scene 4.

Allison meets with Sarah, one of her white colleagues. Sarah is a strong advocate for expanding their group’s support beyond Janet’s organization. Sarah has a long-standing relationship with the leader of the other people of color-led organization who is requesting support, and she thinks they should be able to use this situation as an opportunity to clarify and diversify their solidarity partnership agreements. She says they are still being accountable to people of color because both organizations being supported are people of color-led. Allison agrees with Sarah, and they brainstorm how they can navigate the conversation, first, with their group of white folks, including Jennifer. They also talk about what issues they imagine would arise during a conversation with Janet, and what they would need to do or say in order to avoid undermining that relationship.

Silent reflection:

  1. How is Allison being accountable to the white people in her organization (or not)?
  2. How is Allison being accountable to people of color (or not)?

Small group discussion: (20 minutes)

  1. What are your impressions of Allison and her attempts to navigate this question about fund-raising?
  2. To what degree is Allison accountable to the various relationships described?
  3. What resonates for you while reading these scenes?
  4. How might you act similarly or differently than Allison? Why?
  5. How would a “both/and” perspective support Allison?

Large group discussion: (20 minutes)

  1. What questions or concerns arose in the small groups?
  2. How does this scene study reflect the tension between honoring one’s inner voice and creating relationships of accountability regarding racial justice?
  3. What insights will you take away from this exploration and discussion?
  4. For faith groups, how does this inform our discipleship, how we navigate our responsibility to community versus ourselves as individuals?

Facilitator’s Note: Some questions that may arise during the discussion include the following:

  1. What does it mean to take direction from another when it doesn’t match with your priorities or strategic vision?
  2. What would it mean to try out a new path that doesn’t fully make sense to you, electing to stay in a relationship that feels like it’s constraining, but might end up inviting a new vision?
  3. What does it mean to try and make one’s personal ideas less visible, even while working to implement them?
  4. What is the difference between having strategic conversations versus being manipulative?

Wrap up: A challenge when attempting to be accountable to racial justice principles is the fact that accountability occurs within relationships. To the degree that different relationships have different expectations and agreements, accountability might look very different. In some situations, ensuring total transparency might be invited and valued. In others, holding one’s voice and concentrating on listening and understanding is what is required.